Thursday, August 18, 2016

True story: Bats!

The list of animals I'm terrorized by and avoid at all costs isn't long - it basically consist of snakes, chickens and moths. Snakes is pretty self-explanatory as lots of people are afraid of snakes (Incidentally, I'm afraid of eels as well, but they are basically water snakes so I don't give them their own category). I can't really explain my chicken phobia, but a lot of it has to do with my cousin Mark. Feel free to ask him for details. Moths, quite simply, have it out for me. The only plausible reason I have been able to come up with is I secrete a moth drawing pheromone. Rarely a day goes by from April until October that I have not been the victim of an unprovoked moth attack. A lone moth would seek me out of a stadium full of people for attack. It happens far too often to be coincidence. Kate will verify this - she has witnessed countless attacks. Two days ago, while cleaning out an old backpack of mine - one that I hadn't used for months - she opened a zippered pocket and out flew a moth ready to attack. Realizing it was Kate and not me, however, the moth flew off and is undoubtedly hiding somewhere else in the house waiting for me to let my guard down. There are other animals I'm not really a fan of - centipedes, maggots, and other gag reflex inducing animals are on this list, but I don't scream and run upon encountering them. Bats were also one of these "second tier fear" animals. An encounter last week, however, promoted them to the esteemed ranks of snakes, chickens and moths.
I had some vacation time to burn and a fat stack of books to read so Carson and I took off for what is becoming our annual week-long retreat to the woods. Our days are spent lounging on the deck reading and napping and having some much cherished alone time. There were other campers, but our spot is secluded enough that seeing others is rare and interaction is non-existent. It was just Carson and I for a full week - or so we thought. On Tuesday morning, while I was sitting on the deck enjoying coffee and the cool morning air, my attention was drawn to the tarp covering the wooden frame over the deck. More specifically, it was drawn to two tiny triangular ears that were situated between the tarp and the frame.

It's impossible to discern what the object is from the picture, but I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking at and wasn't really interested in moving in for a closer shot. As I said, I considered bats in that second tier of frightening animals - not exactly terrifying but not something I want to cuddle up with either. After pondering for a while, I decided to leave it be. Bats have it bad enough these days with the terrible and mysterious white nose syndrome that is decimating their population. I certainly didn't need to be responsible for further killing off the species. So, I picked up my book and began reading, determined to ignore the uninvited guest. I read about half a page before quickly glancing up to make sure the bat hadn't moved. It hadn't. Good, no reason to be alarmed, and I could return to my book. This time I read a full three sentences before checking on the bat again. It still hadn't moved. After about 10 minutes of repeating the process of reading increasingly smaller amounts before having an irresistible urge to make sure the bat hadn't moved, I came to the realization that this wasn't going to work. If I wanted to relax and get some reading done, the bat had to go.
I was still determined to remove the bat humanely, so I decided that if I simply lifted the tarp off of the frame, the bat would most likely harmlessly fly away into the woods and the problem would be solved. So, I grabbed a stick and headed to the opposite corner of the tarp from the bat and began lifting the canvas off the frame, keeping one eye on my beady-eyed intruder. I almost had my corner of the tarp removed when I saw a movement close to where I was poking my stick. Startled, I jumped back and gave a small squeal as I saw a second set of tiny triangular ears scurrying to get back under the cover of the tarp. Well, shit, now I had a problem. There were not one but two bats I had to humanely remove before I could resume enjoying my vacation. Pausing to assess the situation, I poured a little bit of Jameson into my coffee to steel my nerves. I then went to a third corner of the tarp, inspected it carefully to assure there weren't any bats hiding (there weren't) and began using my stick to remove the tarp again. As the tarp slid up over the wooden frame, something dropped down, bouncing off my arm before hitting the ground. I let out a yelp and took off running. Carson, convinced we were playing some sort of new game that he didn't yet understand the rules of, chased after me. I stopped about 10 feet away, hid behind a tree and courageously looked back towards the desk. There was no sign of movement so, stick at the ready, I crept forward to determine if the coast was clear. It wasn't. The two bats were still watching me (can bats see?) from their perches. Additionally, a frog had apparently decided to join the party in the tarp and it was he (or she) that had tumbled down on top of me while I was trying to free the bats.
Shaken, but still determined, I poured more Jameson into my coffee. I took a nice long sip and poured in a little more. I determined the only way to make this happen was to rip off the proverbial band-aid. Instead of inching the tarp off, I would grab a corner and just give it a quick tug, pulling it all off at once. It was a risky plan, but I wasn't interested in prolonging this exercise any more than I already had. So, I poured a little coffee into my Jameson, slammed it down, and took a firm grip of the tarp. After counting down from ten, I gave the tarp a strong jerk and it slid off of the frame, exposing the bats. In the scenario I had mapped out in my head, the bats, once exposed, would quickly dash off into the woods and my problems would be solved. The bats, however, weren't interested in following my script. Once exposed, the began furiously swooping and circling around the deck over and over again. I screamed, quite loudly this time, and (literally) hit the deck. For what seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than 10 seconds, I lay flat on the deck as the bats continued to swoop around in circles above my head. Carson, meanwhile, still not understanding the rules of this game, began prancing around me, oblivious to the horror just inches above him. Trapped, I began desperately searching for an escape, eventually settling on the car parked about 20 feet away. I let out a scream and began running while staying as low to the ground as possible. Thankfully, the car was unlocked and I dove in, slamming the door immediately behind me. Safe now, I looked back at the scene of the carnage, letting out another yelp as Carson joyfully jumped up and looked in the window, obviously enjoying this awesome new game.
The bats circled for at least three more minutes before finally taking off for the woods. Once they left, I waited another full five minutes before exiting the car and shamefully apologizing to the dog for deserting him in the face of danger. The ordeal over, I steadied myself with a Jameson (hold the coffee, please) and replaced the tarp. After a few hours, I was finally able to relax again and resume my vacation.
The next morning the temperature and humidity dramatically spiked upward and over coffee Carson and I debated whether we should stay in our introvert paradise and deal with the heat or stealthily sneak home to air-conditioning. As we were discussing, I happened to glance upwards and noticed the horrifying little brown bump wedged firmly under the tarp again. I was out of Jameson, so we quickly packed the car and headed for home.

Friday, May 13, 2016

My Nose, Part 3

True story - My nose and I have always had an adversarial relationship, part three in a four part nose flattening thriller.

Incident #3 - Age 23, Linden Hills Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota

This story isn't so much an "incident" as redemption gone terribly wrong.  I had broken my nose a couple more times between seventh grade and age 23, all basketball related and none particularly noteworthy.  None of the breaks were serious enough that I sought more in-depth medical attention than having an overworked school nurse stuff some gauze up my nostrils and placing an ice pack on my nose.  Doctors generally weren't used in my household growing up.  My mom was an X-Ray Technician and had seen a career full of people coming into the emergency room for the most ridiculous of reasons.  Her reasoning, which makes perfect sense, was why pay an exorbitant fee and wait several hours in an emergency room for a doctor to simply verify something you already knew was broken was broken?  So, unless it needed a cast, we simply dealt with it.  Fingers, toes and noses weren't serious enough to require a doctor's visit.  (Side story:  One time in high school when my parents were on a fishing trip in Canada, I had pushed Brian a little too far and he was chasing me around the house in a violent rage.  I, as was my protocol, ran into the bathroom and locked the door.  Safely behind a locked door, I heard a loud thud followed by Brian screaming he had stubbed and broken his toe and I needed to drive him to the emergency room.  I called bullshit for a good 10 minutes before finally opening the door a crack so he could prove it to me.  He wasn't lying - his little toe was pointed at a macabre 90 degree angle from the rest of his foot.  We called a temporary truce to our hostilities and I drove him to the emergency room, where it played out exactly as my mom told us it would.  We waited for a few hours, the doctor looked at his toe, said, "Yep, it's broken.  You should probably stay off it a while."  He then gave Brian some ibuprofen and a hefty bill.  When my parents called the next day to check in on us, we explained what happened and were lectured for the rest of the call for making the egregious error of racking up a hospital tab for a measly broken toe, and the littlest toe at that).

In November of 1993, Kate became tired of my constant snoring, choking and gagging every night as my natural instinct would kick in after I fell asleep and I would attempt to breathe through my nose.  While conscious, I was aware of the futility of nose breathing and would intake my oxygen through my ever agape mouth, but as soon as I fell asleep I would start (trying) to breathe through my nose again.  I was aware I had broken my nose in the past, but attributed my breathing issues more to ever present allergies than a badly aligned nose.  So, I made an appointment and went and saw an allergist.  He gave me a thorough examination, poking and prodding my skin testing for various allergic reactions.  After about an hour, he informed me that I did indeed have a few different mild allergies that could be contributing to my difficulty breathing.  What was a bigger culprit, however, was the fact that my septum had deviated to the point that one of my nostrils was entirely blocked off, allowing no air in or out of half of my nose.  He could prescribe allergy medicines, but it would probably make more sense to have my nose fixed first and see how much of a difference that made.

So, after spending a few weeks convincing my insurance company that this was not a cosmetic procedure (I'm vain, but not vain enough for a nose job), I scheduled the surgery.  It was perfect timing as we were getting married the following July and I would have a nice, new, beautifully straight beak for the event.  The surgery was a same day procedure, meaning KT dropped me off in the morning and came back several hours later to bring me home.  It went off without a hitch, although I don't remember any of it (and never did) as I was put under for the surgery and then kept full of pain killers for the next few days.  To this day, KT doesn't hesitate to remind me that I was a complete unbearable asshole during my recovery period, going so far as throwing a petulant childish tantrum in the middle of a Snyder's Drug on the way home from the hospital because they were unable to fill my pain killer prescription.  Two days after the surgery, I returned to the doctor for a follow up appointment.  My eyes were both extremely blackened, I had a brace protecting my nose from any inadvertent bumping and I had small barely noticeable strings hanging from each nostril.  The doctor said my appointment would be a short one, so KT and Al, who was two at the time, decided to just wait in the lobby for me.  Thirty minutes passed.  Then sixty.  Then ninety.  Finally, after two hours, a nurse informed KT that I could be taken home, but would probably need assistance walking to the car.  KT and Al went back into my exam room to find me an unnerving shade of gray, sitting motionless in a chair in the middle of what looked to be a crime scene.

Unbeknownst to me, the two "little strings" that were barely hanging out of my nose were attached to two much larger tampon-type devices which were crammed into my nasal cavity so far that I wasn't even aware they were there.  When I sat down on the table for my follow up appointment, the doctor casually asked me how I was feeling.  Before I got a chance to answer, he gripped the two little strings and with a quick snap of the wrist, ripped the "tampons" out of my nose.  I was caught totally unaware and gasped as I saw the size of the objects that had previously been shoved up my nose.  Then, I briefly noticed the blood flowing out of my nose like a wide open tap before blacking out.  When I woke up, I was lying on a table surrounded by a few agitated orderlies attempting to clean up more blood than I had ever seen before in my life.  The doctor, noticing I was conscious, chuckled softly and said something along the lines of "Well, that was a bit more blood than I was anticipating".  He proceeded to tell me that despite being covered in blood, I looked great and the surgery had been a success.

He was right.  A few months after the surgery, I was able to take the brace off and was dumbstruck by how beautiful my nose looked.  It no longer took a curving "S" route down my face but instead was a straight line top to bottom.  KT marveled at how wonderfully silently I was sleeping and I had to admit I was waking up feeling more refreshed than previously.  We were now into Spring, which meant the outdoor basketball courts were up and running nightly.  I was itching to start playing again as between the surgery and not being able to afford a gym membership, it had been several months since I played last.  My brother, cousin Todd and his friend Matt all lived nearby and we had made a habit of going to Linden Hills Park in Southwest Minneapolis three to four nights a week to play.  We were young, tall and in shape at the time so we put together a pretty formidable team and more often than not got to keep playing until we decided we were finished (winner's always stayed on the court until they were beaten).  My nose was still a little tender to the touch, so I put my nose brace on before the first game of the season and hit the court, excited to get back to my pre-surgery routine.

The nose brace lasted a half a game.  It was bulky, uncomfortable and blocking my vision.  Additionally, I was (am) superstitious, so when my first several shots clanked off the rim rather than going through the net, I whipped of the brace and threw it to the sidelines.  I vowed to be careful, settling for jump shots and keeping out of the lane where elbows flew.  The only was I was (am) a terrible outside shooter.  My basketball skills were centered around patrolling the lane, throwing my weight around (I was no longer scrawny) and grabbing rebounds.  So, before I knew it, I was mixing it up in the paint, we were winning games and all was right with the world - until it wasn't.  On about our fourth game of the night, I was matched up against a giant of a man whom I had battled many times before.  He was a very friendly guy and we got along great, but on the court we absolutely pounded on each other.  He had not been playing basketball for long - and never more organized games than playground ball - and thus wasn't fully aware of some of the do's and don'ts on the court.  One of the big don'ts, especially in playground ball, is throw your elbows around.  Unaware of the unwritten rule, however, this guy would leap for rebounds and come down with his elbows fully extended and swinging.  He wasn't doing it maliciously, he just didn't realize the peril he was putting everyone else (including his own teammates) in.  As I'm sure is apparent by now, I caught one his monstrous elbows, square on the bridge of my nose.  It made a sickening squishing sound and game stopped as my teammates were immediately aware of the gravity of what just happened.  I grabbed my nose, expecting blood to be rushing out and was stunned to find only a small drop or two leaking out.  I let out a big sigh of relief, thinking I had avoided a catastrophe.  I looked over at Todd to show him I was ok and saw his jaw drop and face turn white.  Even though my nose wasn't gushing blood, it was pointing slightly towards my ear rather than straight down to my chin.  I excused myself from the game and rushed home the few blocks to our apartment to see the damage for myself.  When I arrived home, I told KT that "I might have broken my nose again" and asked her to take a glance.  She looked up at me, slowly shook her head and covered her face with her hands.  It was an action I would see her repeat a few more times over the years.  

My septum was once again blocking an air passage and my picture perfect wedding nose was ruined. Neither insurance nor KT were going to allow me to have the procedure again so I was back to the mouth-breathing snorer I was destined to be.

Next time - Broken ego or broken nose - which would I choose?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Nose, Part 2

True story - My nose and I have always had an adversarial relationship, part two in a four part septum shattering drama.

Incident #2 - Age 13, Valley Middle School, Apple Valley, Minnesota

One year later, my nose had fully recovered from the "shallow end of the pool" incident.  I was now a year older and in seventh grade, but physically nothing had changed.  I was still a runt, the proverbial 100lbs. soaking wet.  The photo is from my 12th birthday, but it gives an idea of my less than imposing physique (Side note - this photo could be a story in itself from the Old Style Light in the corner to the wallpaper clearly identifying where in the house you were to the "Grace" painting that every good Minnesotan Lutheran family had hanging in their house, but I digress).  Although my body hadn't changed much, my mind certainly had.  I had morphed from a (mostly) sweet, innocent kid into a complete insufferable asshole.  I didn't realize it at the time, of course, but having had experience later in life with kids that age, including my own, I can comfortably state that all 7th graders, particularly those with "outdoor plumbing" are complete assholes.  Most grow out of it, thankfully (I like to think I did), but at that age they are completely unbearable.

As a seventh grader, it is incumbent upon you to make others miserable.  It is as naturally instinctive as eating boogers as a toddler or cracking open a beer at 12:01PM on a Saturday for a middle age man.  Because of my size, I couldn't use my new found assholism to physically make other people miserable.  The only person I dared get physical with was my brother who was either too patient (possibly) or as physically unimposing as me (more likely) and didn't give me the proper pummeling I so richly deserved.  Our "fights" usually consisted of me sneaking up on him while he was reading a book (Brian was always reading a book, so this wasn't difficult), delivering a few quick blows to his stomach or trick knee (a blow to the right spot on his knee left him howling in pain for a good 30 minutes) and then quickly locking myself in the bathroom until he became too bored for retribution.   On the rare occasions he was able to retaliate, to his credit he always abided by the unwritten rule that no punches were allowed above the neck.

So, unable to physically torture others, I instead turned to verbal torture.  I'm unable to give examples of the acerbic wit I unleashed on others (this was more than 30 years ago), but I can imagine they were about as clever as you would expect from an asshole seventh grader.  One person in particular received an pretty hefty share of my verbal assholism.  I can't remember his name - even scouring through my old yearbook wasn't able to bring it back - so will call him "Scott".  Scott was a year older, in eighth grade, but wasn't much bigger than I was.  I don't know why I chose Scott to unleash my assholism on, but can only guess it was because I didn't see him as much of a physical threat, which was rare for me.  I do remember going out of my way to insult, tease, pester and generally torture the poor kid though.  I also remember that I was smart enough (or, more appropriately, cowardly enough) to only unleash my verbal torment when I had a full backing band of friends who would laugh each time I let my inner asshole shine.  Scott may not have been bigger than me physically, but mentally and emotionally couldn't have been more different.  Rather than lob insults back my direction or ask a teacher to intervene, he silently took it without reacting.  Which, of course, I took as an invitation to continue my behavior (remember, I was in seventh grade and seventh graders are assholes).  For weeks on end, I was an unrelenting dick to this poor kid - until the day Scott had finally had enough.

We were in shop class together (excuse me, Industrial Arts), which allowed a loose enough class structure that the students were able to interact with one another without being told to shut up and pay attention.  I had been bugging Scott since the opening bell and was still unleashing insults when the final bell rang.  I was so deeply involved in being an asshole that I took no notice that my supporting group of friends had become bored with my game and were already out the door on the way to their next class.  It was then that I noticed a not so subtle change in Scott.  Instead of just shrugging off my words, he turned and stared at me with a seething hatred in his eyes that I hadn't ever seen before.  I was shocked and frightened and became more so when I realized that apart from Scott and I, the classroom was completely empty.  My bravado gone, I gathered my items and headed for the exit.  Scott, undoubtedly seeing his opportunity, blocked my way.  Before I knew what had happened, Scott delivered a beautiful round house punch square to the bridge of my nose that sent me sprawling across the room.  I blacked out briefly and then pretended that I was dead in the hopes that he wouldn't continue my much deserved ass-whooping.  When I dared open my eyes again, Scott was gone and I was alone with my pain, blood and humiliation.

As mentioned in the "shallow end" incident, I was pretty good about keeping things from my parents.  This time, however, that was impossible.  I arrived home from school with a gash on my nose and two black eyes.  My mom noticed immediately and asked what had happened.  There wasn't a chance in hell I was going to explain that I had been a mouthy little shit and gotten what I deserved, so I explained it away to an errant elbow at a playground basketball game.  I'm not sure if she bought the story or not, but let it slide either way.  Scott, to his credit, never spoke to me or even looked at me again.  The momentum was undeniably all his and I was completely terrified of him. He could have easily spent the rest of the year forcing me to turn tail every time I saw him.  Instead, he acted as if he had never seen me before.  I never thanked him at the time, of course, because I was too afraid to come within 100 yards of him.  As I have grown older and my assholism has faded, however, I think often of the debt I owe this kid.  Not only did he teach me a valuable lesson about the consequences of being an asshole, he let the lesson speak for itself and didn't continue to make my life miserable, as easy as that would have been for him.  So, Scott, wherever you are, thank you for breaking my nose. 

Next time - Wedding Day Blues

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Nose

True story - My nose and I have always had an adversarial relationship 

I have, in the course of my 45 years, managed to break my nose as many as seven times.  I say "as many as" because I've only endeavored to see a doctor about it twice.  Two incredibly expensive and draining septorhinoplasty surgeries have convinced me that perhaps my nose is just meant to be perpetually broken and I shouldn't fight nature.  Kate has actually forbidden me to have the surgery again unless I a) sign a waiver guaranteeing to never play basketball again and b) find someone else to transport my impossibly cranky ass home from the surgery and to my follow up appointments.  So, instead, I have learned to live life with my mouth slightly ajar as my septum is deviated to the point that one side of my nose is completely blocked, making the intake of oxygen through my mouth a requirement.

I don't remember the details of each break, but I'll share a few of the more memorable ones.  In the interest of keeping the stories shorter and Facebook friendly, I'll separate them in different posts.

Incident #1 - Age 12, Valley Middle School, Apple Valley, Minnesota.

As a sixth grader, I was a scrawny child.  Not just skinny, but scrawny.  Those who have known me only as an adult may (justifiably) be skeptical, but it's true.  I was the kid in gym class who was struggling bench pressing the bar only while the other kids - boys and girls - were pushing up twice the weight I was.  It was one of those humiliating experiences unique to the awful middle school years.  I was always relieved when gym class moved out of the weight room and into the swimming pool.  Swimming was the great equalizer for me.  I was still awkwardly skinny in my suit, but I had grown up in the water.  I was an excellent swimmer and eagerly used every opportunity to show it.  Swim the length of the pool?  No problem.  Do it entirely underwater?  Sure.  Use the diving board?  A perfect opportunity to show off my perfect diving form.  The pool - and to a lesser extent the basketball court - was where I was able to feel like I was not only not the worst in the class, but one of the better ones.

At the end of each class session, we were usually given 10 to 15 minutes for "free swim".  For most kids, this meant hanging out in the shallow end and splashing each other.  I, however, was determined to use this time to impress upon everyone exactly how talented a swimmer I was.  I headed to the deep end of the pool with the few other brave souls and dove in time after time.  As exhilarating as this was, it didn't take long for me to become aware that my extraordinary diving feats weren't being given the attention they were due.  The majority of the kids were still down in the shallow end, oblivious to the mastery being exhibited.  This would not do.  If they wouldn't acknowledge me in the deep end, I was bringing my talents to the shallow end.  Diving was (with good reason) strictly forbidden in the shallow end, but I had done it several times before and know how to "shallow" dive.  I lined up at the shallow end of the pool, performed a series of exaggerated stretches to draw attention to myself and dived gracefully in.  Gracefully, that is, until I smacked my nose square on the bottom of the pool.

Immediately I knew I had messed up. Big time.  I surfaced and through eyes quickly clouding over with tears, looked around to see who had witnessed my humiliation.  Amazingly (although in retrospect, maybe not so amazingly) nobody seemed to notice.  All the other kids were going about their business.  I had escaped the ordeal without embarrassment.  Relieved and determined not to break down in tears, I decided to head to side of the pool and regain my composure.  My brilliant stealthy getaway was quickly blown, however, by a scream of the incredible decibel level and pitch that only middle school girls are capable of.  In my dazed and embarrassed state, I had failed to notice a small but quickly growing pool of bright red water surrounding me.  Unfortunately, the macabre scene didn't go unnoticed by others.  The first scream was followed by several more and soon after by the shriek of our teacher's whistle and shouted instructions that everyone must exit the pool immediately.  I held on to the last shreds of my dignity, hoping that I was far enough away from the mess that it couldn't be traced back to me.  The horrified looks of my classmates as they saw my flattened and slightly bent beak spewing blood quickly ended all hope of evading notice.

Class was called early and the other kids were sent to the locker rooms to get changed.  I, on the other hand, was afforded to opportunity to add insult to my injury as I was paraded through the hallways to the nurses office wearing only my swimsuit and with half a box of Kleenex stuffed in my nasal cavity.  Needless to say, I wasn't allowed to participate in the rest of our swimming unit and was stuck on the sidelines until the class was on to a much more humiliating exercise, like pull-ups (my record was one).  Looking back, I was fortunate to only injure my nose considering the horror stories that exist with diving accidents.  I'm not sure if my nose was actually broken as - once the bleeding stopped - the only visible sign of my youthful indiscretion was a small bump, but I can distinctly remember the pain that would resurface far too many times later in life.  I'm pretty sure I even successfully hid this incident from parents (I was pretty adept at selective sharing of what I was up to when I was younger) as my mom has no recollection of it.  I didn't know it at the time, but I had only scratched the surface of my nasal adventures.

Next time - The Punch!

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Time I Threw Myself into Traffic

True Story: I was once flattened by a car while walking.

I was born blessed with the ability to be a good test taker.  From my kindergarten placement test all the way through my ACT and SAT tests, I was fortunate to score high enough to open doors for me that wouldn't have otherwise been opened.  I was "that guy" who loved taking tests (I still do - I can't pass up a test of any sort that pops up on my timeline). Be it a multiple choice test or an essay (as most of you reading this know, I've proven I can scribble on for pages about virtually nothing), I was always happy to take tests.  I would like to credit a strong work ethic and a dogged determination to be the best, but the reality is it is just something that I was lucky enough to be born with.  

As good as I was at test taking, I was equally awful about homework and studying.  I didn't have the time or the patience for these trivialities.  There were video games to play, baskets to shoot and as I entered college, beer to drink.  Besides, why study or turn in assignments when I knew I could do well enough on the tests to get through my courses with acceptable grades.  And so, for the first 13 years of my schooling career, I coasted through with average grades but great test scores.

My easy ride came to a screeching halt my first year at the University of Minnesota.  I had managed to survive Apple Valley High School and two years of Gustavus with acceptable - but not great - grades without a ton of effort.  Now that I was at the U and declared myself as a Geography and Urban Planning major, however, I learned that I needed to be proficient in a foreign language in order to graduate.  I had taken four years of German in High School and so figured this was going to be my easiest path to fulfilling the requirement.  I took a placement test (yay!), did well on it and was advised to take Level 3 German, meaning I would only need a few classes before my requirement was satisfied. So, I signed up for the class and arrived for my first day convinced I could slack and fake my way through this class and simply test my way out at the end.  Five minutes into the first class I realized I had made a pretty major miscalculation.  The professor, along with the 10 or so other students in the class, spoke nothing but German for the entire 75 minute class.  I slumped lower and lower in my seat trying to avoid being noticed and dragged into a conversation that I was only comprehending a small amount of.  When the lecture mercifully ended, I immediately went to the registar's office and dropped the class.

My German career was over, but now I needed a different path to fill my foreign language requirement.  I flipped through the course catalog and discovered that beginning Latin was the only other language course that fit into my schedule.  I wasn't thrilled about the choice, but decided to give it a shot.  After the first three or four classes, I was convinced I had made a brilliant decision.  We were learning nothing but simple vocabulary and I aced my first two quizzes and test.  It was at this point that I determined that this class was large enough that my absence wouldn't be noticed if I were to miss an occasional class.  I also realized that if I continued to breeze through the tests, I didn't really have to turn in the tedious homework assignments.  After all, tests were 80% of my grade.  If I did well enough on them and turned in a half of my assignments, I could probably pull out a "B" without really giving much of an effort.  So, accordingly, I began to attend class less and less and turn in fewer and fewer assignments.  By the time the final came around, my grade had dropped to a C-.  I wasn't worried, however, as the final exam was 50% of my grade and I would be easily able to pull up to an acceptable "B" by doing well on the test.  So, as was my ritual, I spent about 30 minutes flipping through my text book and showed up to take the final.

Things went south in a hurry.  Two questions into the test I realized I had gravely misjudged how "simple" the class was.  As it turns out, there are much deeper levels to learning Latin (and any language, I'm sure) than simply translating the rough meaning of words.  There are suffixes and declensions and conjugations and tenses - future, perfect, imperfect, and future perfect among them.  I was totally and completely lost.  Question after question and page after page I sunk deeper into despair as it became perfectly obvious that for the first time in my life I was going fail this class in spectacular fashion.  After about 20 minutes, while my disposition morphed from confident to confused to utter despair, I gave up, turned in my barely filled in exam and sheepishly headed for the exit.

I began walking across campus in a complete daze.  At least I think I began walking across campus in a complete daze - the entire experience had so discombobulated and rattled me that I remember very little of my actual actions.  My entire concept of what was required of me to excel, get a college degree, get a great job and live my dream middle class life had gone up in flames in 20 short minutes, reducing me to a confused, depressed and extremely panicked mess of emotions.  I wanted nothing more than to hop on a bus, go home and wallow in my misery.  And so, with my mind in million places except on where I was going, I stepped out into the road to cross and was immediately slammed into by a car exiting the interstate.

Thankfully, excepting a slight bump and scrape on my knee where I hit the license plate (or where it hit me, depending on how you look at it), I was unhurt.  The collision had knocked me first onto the hood and then back onto the street.  More embarrassed than anything (the first thing I did while still on the ground was check the crossing light which indeed confirmed that I had stepped out against a red light) and still dizzy from the epic failure I had just submitted, I got up and limped to curb.  The poor woman who slammed into me was beside herself, wailing and convinced she had most certainly killed me.  Several other cars screeched to a halt and jumped out to assist the tragedy as well, all of which just added to my growing sense of embarrassment.  It took several minutes for me to convince the poor lady and the other witnesses that 1) I was alive and 2) she did not need to call 911 and 3) she had done nothing wrong and the accident was my fault.  I felt bad for it later (and still kind of do), but I finally sternly said, "I"M OK!!! AND I'M SORRY!!!" before leaving the well intentioned driver and concerned witnesses in the street while I gimped on my slightly injured knee across the intersection and hobbled onto the bus which was now stuck in the traffic problems I created by throwing myself into traffic.  I slunk into an empty seat and silently urged the bus to begin moving before an ambulance or police arrived and I would be forced to recount the whole embarrassing ordeal again in excruciating detail.  Fortunately, my pleas were answered and after about five minutes traffic began moving and I safely exited the scene of the accident.

A good moral of the story would be that I learned how important hard work, attendance and studying are and changed my slothful ways.  My lesson learned, I buckled down, studied hard and received nothing but "A"s going forward.  When this story is made into an ABC Afterschool Special, that's how it will end.  It's a much more fulfilling message than the reality.  So, yeah, let's go with that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

True Story - I met my Spirit Guide Animal in Mexico
KT and I were on vacation in Mexico the past week with our good friends Mike and Jessica. While there, I had an experience that I can't stop thinking about. I can't explain it and I'm not sure I want to be able to. I fiercely debated sharing it as it sounds so implausible that I fully expect most people to call bullshit and can't blame anyone for doing so. But it happened and those few I shared it with have encouraged me to write it up. So I will.
First, a word about our destination. We were on the Pacific Coast in a town called Zihuatanejo. Mike and Jessica have been visiting annually for nearly 20 years. This was the our second trip and we plan on going back every year until we are no longer able to walk it's amazing hills and beaches. It's stunningly beautiful (see photo), incredibly friendly and dirty in all the right ways.
No trip to Mexico would be complete, however, without the clich├ęd sickness. On the Saturday morning of our trip, I broke down with a pretty significant fever. It started coming on - along with some stomach discomfort - at breakfast. I knew something wasn't right when I started slightly shivering in 80 degree humid heat. If I were smart, I would have gone back to the room at this point. However, I am stubborn - and stubborn and smart are often not on the same team. So, I trekked with the rest of the gang to the beach. After a few hours of laying on the beach, my fever had gotten to the point where I was miserable. I was unbearably hot except for the times I was freezing cold. I didn't have the energy to even read. I simply laid there begging for sleep. Sleep finally came, but left soon after arriving. The short nap gave me a little burst of energy, however, and I decided to head back to the hotel.
I didn't want everyone to have to leave so I insisted on going back alone. To get to the beach we were on, you can either take a water taxi or walk over a rocky stretch that is mostly easy terrain, but has a few areas that are a little more difficult to navigate. We chose to walk over as it's a beautiful hike and a lot of fun, provided you don't have a raging fever. I did, however, having a raging fever, and was having a taxing time getting over the path on the way back. I stopped to rest for a second when a big black dog walked up to me. It looked something like a Great Dane, but wasn't quite as large. It was obviously a stray, which are fairly common in Zihuatanejo, but just keep to themselves and don't bother anyone. It had a torn up muzzle, like it recently had been in a fight. It walked past me, stopped, stared at me for a few seconds and then slowly started walking again. I followed it.
It walked unusually slow for an unleashed dog, always staying about 10 feet in front of me, the entire length of the path. At the toughest point of the journey, where it is necessary to climb and over a short crag, I met up with a family of locals coming the other way. The path wasn't wide enough to get by one another, so I moved off to the side to let them pass. The dog slipped by them and disappeared over the rocks out of my view. It took a while for the family to get through as there were six of them, including one who I assume to be the abuela who was being mostly carried over this part. After about five minutes of waiting, I slowly labored over the rocks. When I got to the other side, the dog was sitting on the path a little ways up. As I neared him, he got up and slowly led me the remaining way down the path, which opens up to another beach and a place I could grab a cab back to our hotel. Once the cabs were in view, the dog turned around and left back down the path the way he had came.
I jumped in a cab, went back to the hotel and spent the next 10 hours sleeping in five minute shifts, alternating between freezing cold and sweating profusely. KT came and checked on me for a few hours and then went to dinner about 8:00 with Mike and Jessica, getting back to the room around 11:00 or so. At what I think must have been around 2:00 or 3:00, I had a very brief dream. In the dream, everything was exactly like things were in our hotel room except the sliding door to our little balcony was open and the curtains were different. I would have thought I was awake and not dreaming but I knew the balcony door was closed. I was looking at the door and the same dog (torn muzzle and all) that walked me down the path walked in. He came to the foot of the bed, calmly looked at me for just a few seconds and then walked back out the door in his same slow gait. I woke up slightly freaked out but quickly fell back asleep - and slept for a solid, glorious, seven hours. My fever had broken.
I woke up feeling way better but still had stomach issues, of which I'll spare you the details. KT and I played it safe and stayed near the hotel while Mike and Jessica went back to our favorite beach. We met up again that evening and walked to dinner in town, but my stomach punished my indiscretion and I excused myself early and hightailed back to the hotel, leaving the Kellys to babysit KT once again. I went to bed early, moaning and groaning. At about 3:00, while up using the facilities again, I decided I wasn't going to be able to go the beach again the next day which was a major bummer as it was our last full day. Then, at what I believe was 4:00 or 5:00, I had another 30-second dream.
In this dream, the scene was our favorite beach and it looked exactly like it does in reality, right down to the color and placement of our favorite loungers under a shady tree but only a few feet from the water. There are four chairs there and the host always had them ready for us in the morning with a stocked cooler of cervezas. The chairs were all empty except for the chair which I always grabbed. In the chair, as you have no doubt guessed by now, sat the exact same dog. I woke up immediately as this time I was definitely freaked out. I fell back asleep after a while and slept until 7:30. The plan (for those healthy enough to do it) was to leave the hotel at 8:30 and walk over to our beach, grabbing breakfast somewhere on the way. I got up, had another small "event" and still felt not so great - a little better - but not so great. Because of the dream, however, I decided to give the beach a shot.
By the time we got to the beach, I felt like a million bucks. I made up for all the beer I had missed the previous days, ate anything and everything, skipped the afternoon siesta and partied straight through until we went to bed at 11:00 or so. It was a fantastic day of fun and friends that I'm certain I'll never forget. The Spirit Guide dog had shown me which decision to make and I can't thank him enough.
I tried for a while to come up with a suitable name for the dog, but have come to the realization that I like it better that he doesn't have one. I can't adequately describe how confusing and yet how real this was for me, so it only seems fitting that my dog hero doesn't have a name. After all, I'm not even sure he exists.